Actor-Observer Bias Psychology Term Review #1

One of the most common everyday little psychological quirks that we commit and others do as well is Actor-Observer Bias. Simply put, when we are the “observer” watching someone else, we attribute their short comings, behaviors, and overall actions to internal factors and overarching disposition. Now, when we are the “judge” we tend to see our own actions and shortcomings as a result of simple situational and external factors as opposed to some sort of lack of internalization or character. Actor-Observer Bias falls under the category of cognitive bias.

“ (1)You have weak character! (2)No I couldn’t make it to work because of my car breaking down, you are just being mean to me because I took the last cup of coffee! (1)No, I am simply calling you out like a good fellow employee would, this isn’t because there was no coffee left this morning!

It is important to note that a large amount of social psychology has a tendency for things to be more pronounced in situations where the outcomes are negative. Actor-Observer bias is no different. Interestingly enough, researchers have found that people tend to not fall prey to this bias nearly as frequently with people they know well such as family members and close friends. In social psychology, attribution is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. Because we tend to have more information about the motivations, needs, and thoughts of individuals that are closer to us, we are more likely to take account for the external forces that impact behavior other than just simple observer assumptions.

A very good example of actor-observer bias is a simple test. You walk into a room to take a test. Your friend Bob across the room is also taking the test. The room has too much light coming in from the window in the corner, the room is hot and stuffy, your pencil keeps breaking, and your buddy Joe all the way across the room is tapping his foot like a machine gun, and to top it all off, Jill is playing the piano with her fingers on the desk.

When you get your results back and see that you did poorly, you are now in the judge position. In this situation, we immediately blame the external distractions for the poor test performance instead of acknowledging the lack of studying as well as inefficient practice leading up to the test. (We also don’t want to acknowledge we stopped studying to browse Reddit for a little while, until two hours later we realize we need to be asleep.)

Now on the flip side, when your friend Bob takes a tests and fails, you immediately attribute this to Bob having poor work ethic, laziness, never reading his textbook, and never taking notes. When you are in this observer situation, attribution has us focusing on the internal characteristics of Bob as opposed to the same situational variables that you feel contributed to your own substandard test score.

Actor-observer bias can clearly be problematic and is often a common cause of misunderstandings and arguments. Simply put, it is common for both sides to see the other side being at fault as a result of internal characteristics and attributes, whereas seeing themselves and their behavior as simply a situation issue and not an internal one.

So how can we fix this bias? Simply put, whenever you are in a situation where you start to begin to have attribution about someone, take a step back and potentially see the flaw in the angle you are coming in at. Along with this, if you ever make a mistake or have an argument, it is critical to take a step back and search ourselves to make sure that we aren’t missing our own internal faults. Have the patience to give yourself a self check before you judge a result of your own behavior in a situation as well as have the patience to see the possibility of external factors effecting someone else’s behavior.

Thanks for reading everyone! This was Psychology Term day #1 ! Hope you enjoyed :) You can find me on twitter here.

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